Oakland Planning Commission Considers Adding a Health Element to City’s General Plan

On July 7th the City of Oakland Planning Commission heard a presentation from the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) on adding a health element to the City’s General Plan. Public health staff members, Pam Willow and Dr. Muntu Davis, highlighted the connections between land use planning and health. They cited truck routes and asthma rates, public transit and access to medical care, liquor store concentration and crime, and street planning and pedestrian safety, all as examples of how planning decisions directly impact the community’s health. Eric Angstadt, Deputy Director of CEDA(Community and Economic Development Agency) introduced the speakers and explained that they are asking the commission to work with the ACPHD to seek funding and develop strategies for incorporating a health element.

The planning commissioners expressed support for the idea, many stating that this action is long overdue. In addition to hearing the public’s opinion about the health element proposal, Commissioner Michael Colbruno was interested in hearing more about solutions to the health issues the City is currently facing. The public health department emphasized that including a health element would allow more of these solutions-based conversations and collaborations to take place and allow for health to be considered in all future planning decisions.

During the open forum, community members were invited to voice their opinions about the proposal. There were representatives from diverse organizations including the Oakland School Food Alliance, the Alcohol Policy Network, Transform– a Bay Area public transportation advocacy group, a local children’s gymnastics program, and the Oakland Food Policy Council (OFPC). OFPC member, Heather Wooten, and OFPC coordinator, Alethea Harper, both took a few minutes to speak to the Planning Commission. Heather spoke about her work with Public Health Law and Policy and their capacity as a resource for information on how health elements have been implemented in other cities and communities throughout the country. While funding for such a planning process is a concern among the commission members, Heather pointed to the fact that adopting a health element would put the City in a unique position to receive additional state and federal funds for its planning efforts. Alethea’s comments focused on possible policy solutions to food system problems, including supports and protections for urban agriculture; establishment of a Fresh Food Financing Fund; and streamlining regulations for farmers’ markets. Alethea stated that the Oakland Food Policy Council is eager to help develop these solutions, and having a comprehensive plan and vision for Oakland as a healthy city will help attract resources to each possible solution. Alethea also underscored the point that good food, places to exercise, and a clean environment are the basis of good health, both mental and physical.

There was general excitement among the commissioners, several referred to the work around sustainability, urban agriculture, and health that is already taking place in Oakland. They want to be able to use the expertise of people working on these projects in order to implement larger scale programs to improve the health of City residents. But what are the next steps for this movement towards a health element? The ACPHD staff will need to present their proposal to the Oakland City Council to establish the collaboration between the Planning Commission and the ACPHD. When we know more about the date and details of this presentation to City Council, we will share them with you. It is important to continue showing our support for a health element in the General Plan.

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